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‘Jarrett’ archaeological dig proves 7,500 year old Indian culture in Montana


Evidence from the Jarrett Dig of early native peoples in Boulder Valley.

Evidence from the Jarrett Dig of early native peoples in Boulder Valley.

McLEOD, Mont. –– People from all over the world come to the Hawley Mountain Guest Ranch located near the Gallatin National Forest along the banks of the Upper Boulder River about thirty miles, as the Crow flies, from Yellowstone Park. The main lodge overlooks a peaceful meadow at the base of Hawley Mountain which towers above. Human visitation to this pristine mountain spot is nothing new – archaeological evidence tells that Native people first began using this very same spot more than 7,500 years ago.

Phyllis and Ron Jarrett, who operate a guest ranch on their family land, first discovered the Indian artifacts, which resulted in a archeological dig, while expanding a dam in 1972.

Phyllis and Ron Jarrett, who operate a guest ranch on their family land, first discovered the Indian artifacts, which resulted in a archeological dig, while expanding a dam in 1972.

In 2017, the Jarrett family will celebrate 100 years of owning land in that area – one of the longest held private ranches. Yet, Ron and Phyllis Jarrett, current owners, modestly consider themselves recent newcomers to the Boulder river region. “We are only the most recent in a long line of inhabitants of this area, who appreciate all it has to offer,” said Phyllis Jarret.

That is because of a 1972 archaeological exploration on the ranch, allowed by the Jarrett family. The site is listed as the “Jarrett” Archaeological Site in a number of periodicals and books, including Jerkline to Jeep, a Brief History of the Upper Boulder by Ruth Staunton and Dorothy Keur, 1975. That dig, conducted by Montana State University, yielded artifacts and other indisputable evidence that at least six prehistoric cultures inhabited and camped at the site going back at least 7,500 years. “I personally think it is much older than that,” said Ron Jarrett. “They only scratched the surface and with today’s technology, much more could be learned.”

The story leading up to the dig is rich in western history. According to scholars and tribal historians, in the nineteenth century Crows, Shoshones, Bannock, Sioux and Cheyenne roamed the nearby mountains, hunting, fishing and trapping, with only the occasional mountain man interloper. Many of those early white men were married into various tribes and had befriended the Indians through trade.

According to historical accounts, these tribes favored the area for excellent seasonal hunting and gathering. The mountains were a perfect area to dry meat as there is a constant breeze at those elevations, discouraging flies.

By the mid-1700’s, the Crow Indians became predominant in the Boulder Valley, living in the Yellowstone Valley. Later that area became part of their original reserved treaty lands. Indeed, the word Absaroka given to the range of mountains through which the Boulder River flows, come from the Crow, translated to mean “forked tail bird.” Finally, in 1882, under the reservation era, the Crow, by then in desperate straits, were persuaded to cede a tract of land between the Boulder River and headwaters of the Yellowstone to the United States for $30,000 per year for 25 years, another ill-fated treaty promise from the U.S. Government.

Immediately thereafter, a huge rush of homesteaders invaded the area, rumored to be rich in mineral (gold) deposits. Of course many of those early pioneers had already been in the area, such as Tom Hawley, a prospector who filed a homestead claim in 1907, but as Ron Jarrett said, “It is rumored that he lived in the area for twenty years before that.” If so, he may have been one of the “white” trespassers to Indian lands, which the Crows often complained about. Today, Hawley Mountain, majestic at over 10,000 feet, towers over a peaceful mountain meadow where the “dig” is located.

In 1917, the Jarrett family purchased this land which borders the Upper Boulder River, originally running a cattle and sheep operation, “Running sheep up in this country is a tough go,” Ron explained, “and you have to move the sheep out in the winter, due to the heavy snowfall. As a seven year old, I remember helping trail the sheep 84 miles to the mountains on foot for summer grazing. I was so tired.”

Thus, the Jarrett holdings were eventually turned into a guest ranch, first owned and operated by older brother Bill. Upon his passing, Ron and his wife Phyllis Jarrett bought the ranch in order to keep it in the family. Later, they gained mostly absentee partners Bryant Blewett and Ellen Marshall, California. In 2017, a gala celebration to celebrate the centennial of the ranch will be held, coincidentally also marking Ron and Phyllis’s 50th year anniversary, much of that spent working the ranch.

In 1972, the Jarretts decided to expand and improve a reservoir located on the ranch, a short distance from the riverbed, requiring permits and cooperation with the Soil and Conservation Service. While moving soil and rock, a number of stone tools were noticed, causing speculation. Mr. O.M. Mabry, then Soil Conservation officer in Big Timber, enlisted the cooperation of the land owners who agreed that scientific exploration would be of interest and a valuable contribution to the history of the area, including Ron’s mother Betty Jarrett (now 95) an avid historian and supporter of the Big Timber Museum.

This paved the way for an excavation by Montana State University led by Dr. Leslie Davis who supervised a summer archaeological field class. They set up camp at a place in the meadow where early people left traces of occupation. Digging, trenching

Bpi and screening yielded many implements and artifacts. At the lowest levels explored (about 5’) three implements were found that are related to seed-grinding. At other levels, projectile points, knives and scrapers indicate big game hunting, corroborated by

Bn skeletal material of bear, deer, elk, antelope and bison. In spite of these artifacts, little else is known about the earliest v inhabitants of the Boulder Valley region, but without doubt those early inhabitants were fore-bearers of contemporary 9 mft

Native peoples. “And, if they excavated deeper, more evidence would be found of even earlier groups,” Ron and Phyllis speculate. p

Ron and Phyllis, history buffs, are very appreciative and protective of the site and artifacts. A collection of those photos can be found on their website www.hawleymountain.com. Indeed, it took the Jarrett family nearly thirty years to get a collection of the artifacts from the dig back from the University, items which they highly prize and respect.

Each week during the guest season Ron lectures about the site and the historical B periods represented there, imbuing an appreciation for those early inhabitants of this beautiful site – those who were here thousands of years ago. As the guests look at and touch many of the artifacts, perhaps they too appreciate that civilization in the Boulder Valley existed long before the white people arrived.

(Clara Caufield is employed as the Operations Manager at Hawley Mountain Guest Ranch and can be reached at acheyennevoice@gmail.com)

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